Mary, the Lord’s Servant

"Blessed Art Thou Among Women" by Walter Rane
“Blessed Art Thou Among Women” by Walter Rane

Read: Luke 1:26-38

Mary had plans. She was engaged to be married. Her man was stable, respectable and dependable. She was soon to embark on the next season of her life. You can almost hear her whistling while she cheerfully went about her work, maybe even daydreaming about the day she would soon become Mrs. Joseph. {contented sigh}

In a moment, Mary’s dreamy plans were altered. She was to be the mother of God’s Son, not Joseph’s. She was to name him Jesus, not whatever name had tickled her fancy growing up. He was going to go into His Father’s business, not the family business. And God was going to bring this about in a supernatural way, not by implementing the natural order of things.

Mary’s plans changed, her life altered course, not because of something she had done, but because she had found favor with God. Her reaction?

“Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ ”

As you walk through this first week in December, think about Mary’s response. Really ponder her words in the context of your own life and circumstances – in rush hour traffic, at the grocery store, in that important meeting, during the school play, at the library, while making dinner, at the neighborhood Christmas party. What is your response when life throws you a curveball? How do you react when your plans are frustrated? Is your knee-jerk reaction, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

 

Here We Go a-Adventing

Today is the first day of Advent for the Christmas season and if you’re like me, it has snuck up on you while you were focusing on keeping the thanks in Thanksgiving. Am I right?

Our family has traditionally begun the Christmas season on December 1. That first day in December is a much-anticipated one, especially the further down the ranks you go. On that one day, our home is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with nativities in every room to remind of us of the reason we are celebrating – Jesus birth. We deck the halls. We trim the trees. We hang the stockings with care.  And we begin the countdown to the Big Day with devotionals (and activities) that point us to the manger.

If you find yourself looking for something “more” than the usual holiday stresses, shopping and eating leading up to Christmas this year, I suggest trying one of these great family devotionals that you can begin on December 1 with no advanced prep work:

All the Colors of Christmas Devotional – a free, downloadable daily devotional with doable daily activities for the whole family by Focus on the Family.

Knowing Him by Name – another free, downloadable daily devotional with activities that focuses on a different name of Jesus by Focus on the Family

An Advent of Ideas – a daily devotional with activities that our dear neighbor gave us our first holiday season in the neighborhood; our family favorite is still available at Amazon (affiliate link)

51usb1owegl-_sx370_bo1204203200_In addition to our family devotionals/activities during Advent, I plan to focus my own heart on one witness of the incarnation per week with a short devotional. If this appeals to you, too, please check back on Thursday as I begin this short devotional series with Mary.

How do you focus your heart during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? What family devotionals have worked for your family? I’d love to hear your suggestions for holiday devotionals and activities, both for yourself & your family. Please share links and your great suggestions in the comments section.

 

 

Giving Thanks ‘Round the Table

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Thanksgiving Day is the ideal time to “Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.” (I Chronicles 16:8)

Remembering His help, His faithfulness, and His active hand in our life helps shape our own perspectives. It also serves as an organic way to wave faith flags with those you love who have yet to come to know Him in a saving way.

One great way to do this around the Thanksgiving Day table is Gratitude Gab. The link has eleven questions that you can print out and scatter around your table as great conversation starters, or you can come up with your own. Questions like “Describe something that happened last week that you are thankful for and explain why?” are adaptable for everyone, no matter where they are on their faith walk, and help focus our hearts on grateful remembrances.

Another great way to steer conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table toward what we’re thankful for is this simple conversation starter. Scatter slips of paper with a single word/category around the table – mom, dad, brother, sister, pet, neighbor, job, person on the right, friend, God. Throughout dinner, take turns picking up a category and talking about that particular topic by filling in this sentence – “A time you were thankful for…”

What traditions (new or old) will your family enjoy this year? Please share your great ideas in the comments.

 

Gratitude Game Night

532180_382579435158666_782925171_nFor years I have resented Black Friday. I remember a time not too long ago in which the “thanks” was kept in “Thanksgiving.” It was a treasured time of counting your blessings and adjusting your attitude to one of gratitude.

Not too far in the recent past, however, the commercialization of the Christmas season began it’s hostile takeover of Thanksgiving with the creation of my new nemesis, Black Friday. Not content with preempting the remaining Thanksgiving weekend with a consumerism mindset, early bird specials soon followed – beginning on Thanksgiving Day itself!

In an effort to keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving, a few years ago our family started the tradition of getting together on Black Friday for dinner with another family, combining our leftovers from the day before and enjoying a good time of family fellowship instead of shopping. The past two years, we have added games to our night of fellowship. This year, we’re planning the whole evening as an extension of Thanksgiving Day with Gratitude Game Night.gratitude

Gratitude Game

Everyone gets two slips of paper and writes one word on each slip of something for which they are thankful. For example, my daughter bought her first car this summer, so it would be entirely appropriate for her to write “car” on one. All slips are collected in a bowl. The bowl is passed around the table with players selecting one at a time. Take turns trying to get the table to guess your word without using that word, similar to CatchPhrase. Alternate version – play as family teams.

Thanksgiving Scattergories

One person at a time chooses a letter of the alphabet. Using a timer, each player (or team) writes as many things for which they are thankful that begin with that letter as they can imagine. When the timer goes off, each player (or team) shares their list one item at a time. All duplicated items on everyone’s lists are marked out. The player (or team) with the most items still on their list is the winner!

Wiki-Thanksgiving

Each player thinks of something for which they are thankful. On a 3×5 card, they write a definition of that thing from the general to the more specific. All cards go into a bowl, which gets sent around the table one player at a time. Each player takes one card out, reads the definition to the group and each person tries to 1) figure out what the object of thanks is, and 2) who wrote it.

How does your family keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving? Please share your bright ideas (or links) in the comments.

Action Items

I took a personality profile in college that pegged me as a “doer.” This wasn’t news to me, or anyone that knew me. I am an “action-y” person. I get things done. I don’t let dust settle on me, as the saying goes. I think I have viewed my walk with God through the doer’s personality lens. Working on my faith has always been another thing on my to-do list, until I came across this beautiful truth tucked into the first part of Hebrews 12 – Jesus (not myself) is the Perfecter of my faith.

Fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. – Hebrews 12:2

According to this verse, my part is to fix my eyes on Jesus. That’s my sole action item. His part is to begin, continue and finish my faith. I had never before thought that anyone other than myself was in charge of my faith! Other Scripture backs this up – He is the Potter; I am the clay. He does the filling; I get filled. He is the Vinedresser; I am the branch. Just like so many times in my walk with God, another piece of the puzzle slipped into place. Perfecting my faith? That’s His action item.

PONDER: Have you assumed you were the perfecter of your faith? How does this verse change your perspective?

PRAYER: Father, thank You that your yoke is easy and your burden is light! Forgive me when I take Your job of perfecting my faith into my own hands. I realize now that I have a lifelong habit of attempting to do Your job for You. Help me instead to keep my eyes fixed on You while You continue and finish what You have started.

Giving Thanks in the Little Things

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Simon and I are practicing something new this Thanksgiving season, a variation of an idea I found here.

During the the entire month of November, we are paying closer attention to all the little things our kids are doing that are “praiseworthy” (like holding the door for someone, taking the garbage out unasked, remembering to use good manners, holding their tongue when treated harshly, or any number of other character qualities we want to encourage in our next generation). Each time we witness such an act, we are writing about it on a fall-colored sticky note and sticking it to their bedroom doors when they aren’t looking. (Example: “I was so thankful when I saw you offer to help the man in the wheelchair get a refill of his soda at Sam’s today.” True story. Cue Mom tears.)

Seems simple enough, I know, but I confess that I am too quick to point out the negative while being too slow to praise the positive. And a month focused on thankfulness seems like the proper place to change that pattern, don’t you think? After all, we are encouraged in Philippians 4:8 to do this very thing…

“whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable – if there is any moral excellence or if there is any praise – dwell on these things.”

How are you shifting your focus to one of thanksgiving for the little things this season? Please share your creative ideas (or links) in the comments.

More Like Mary

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Mary (left) and Laura, Season 1 of Little House on the Prairie

Growing up, Little House on the Prairie was one of my favorite t.v. shows. I could relate to Laura as someone who struggled to do the right thing when her feelings tempted her to do the opposite. One such example was from the first season. Laura and Mary had just experienced the first of many unpleasant interactions with nasty Nellie Olsen. Sitting on the stairs of the mercantile, Mary commented to Laura that she could never be as mean as Nellie.

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I confess – I loved this scened. Oh, Nelly!

Laura’s unforgettable reply was, “I could, if Ma and Pa would let me.” As she lived with her beloved parents’ daily influence, they molded Laura’s actions and reactions. In the same way, we have God’s Holy Spirit living within us.

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. – Ezekiel 36:27

His Spirit is constantly available to influence the choices we make and daily mold our actions and reactions, as well. While our feelings may echo Laura’s sentiment, with the Holy Spirit on duty within our hearts, our reactions can be more like Mary’s.

PONDER: In what situation are you most tempted to react in your flesh? Choose to submit your will unto God’s, allowing the Holy Spirit to mold your actions & reactions.

PRAYER: Father, I confess that my actions and reactions are more in line with Laura’s. Help me to be more like Mary, slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger. Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit living within me, teaching and guiding and directing me as I walk with You.

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Test Driving New Traditions

I came across a great idea at the end of summer while looking ahead to the Thanksgiving holiday season – a Thanksgiving Tree!

Perhaps the phrase “Thanksgiving Tree” heralds the nostalgia of school days with images like these…imagesthanksgiving_treethanksgiving-tree-2-apron-strings-other-things-570x526

Or perhaps the phrase “Thanksgiving Tree” brings to mind Pinterest-worthy creations like these?

We should have known Ann Voskamp would be ahead of the curve with this elegant table topper.
I should have known Ann Voskamp would be ahead of the curve with this elegant table topper.
This Thanksgiving Tree by Lia Griffith is absolutely enviable, right?
This Thanksgiving Tree by Lia Griffith is absolutely enviable, right?

Now put a pin in both of those preconceived ideas because when I say “Thanksgiving Tree,” this little beauty is what I’m talking about:thanksgiving-tree

I first discovered the whole idea of having a “Thanksgiving Tree” here and I love this site’s vision for a few different reasons. First, I scarcely decorate for Fall, much less Thanksgiving specifically. Second, I appreciate the focus on handmade decorations for our first “Thanksgiving Tree” because I have always have resident artists in my home. Third, it uses something I already own (the tree) in a new, creative way. Fourth, it cuts down on the workload that is December 1 in our home (the day we decorate for Christmas) by one tree.

So…this year we’re going to test drive this new tradition of a Thanksgiving Tree and see how she handles for our family. What about you? What new traditions are you going to test drive this November in your home? Feel free to share your great ideas (or links) in the comments section.

Patterns of Prayer – Pt. 5

The “Lectio Divina” (or DIVINE READING) Method

The four steps are reading the Bible (taking a bite), meditating on it (chewing), praying (savoring the word), and contemplating its applications so it becomes a part of one’s life (digesting). This method seems to require the biggest time commitment at one sitting, so give yourself at least 30 uninterrupted minutes per day this week as you explore this different pattern of prayer.

1. Reading. Read the passage slowly. Pay attention to the text. Read it several times. Underline sections that catch your attention.

2. Meditating. Try to grasp the meaning of the passage, be aware of God’s presence in your life.

3. Praying. Respond to God, converse with him about the passage and his will. Open your heart to God. Share your heart, not a laundry list of needs or things you think you ought to pray about.

4. Contemplating. Focus on God, rest in his presence, and commit yourself to living out his will, especially as reflected in the reading.

For more information, a simple google search of the name will yield a wealth of further reading on the subject.

Patterns of Prayer – Pt. 4

This week, let’s implement yet another new pattern of prayer – The T.R.I.P. Method. This seemed like an abbreviated pattern very similar to last week’s P.A.R.T.S. pattern. Like the P.R.A.I.S.E. method, I enjoyed starting my time with God thanking Him for what He has already done. It positioned my heart for the next section, which is perhaps what I appreciated most about this particular pattern of prayer – the section on “regrets.” That is a category that I can relate to! Unlike “repentance,” regrets encompasses mess-ups that don’t stem from intentionality, but burden me, keeping me stuck in those moments. I appreciated this new aspect of talking through the times during the day that I missed the mark. It was unburdening to approach the Lord with these burdens, gratefully dumping them at His feet and being able to move forward – both in prayer and with my day. I feel that beginning with those two prepared my heart to intercede, praying for His will more than my own. And then ending by praising Him for His answers, whatever they will be.

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